An interesting thought occurred to me while reading Charles Kadushin’s Understanding Social Networks today. Engaged in a discussion on one aspect of network theory, he references a study by Killworth and Bernard in which they planned a survey intending to finding out how many people their subjects know. “‘Know’ is defined as having had contact within the last two years” (Kadushin, 2012, p. 110). My immediate reaction was that this was a very vague way to trying to determine whether or not you know someone.
Leaving aside the esoteric question of whether or not you can ever actually “know” someone. I thought it might be interesting to try to determine how I would come to an understanding of how many people I know.
I started simple. I figure that I know (or ought to know) my family. Luckily for me, my family isn’t too big. There’s my immediate family, my aunts, uncles and cousins, and those who have married into the family, as well as their extended family, whom I have met and would probably be able to pick me out of a police line-up.
After that, it got a whole lot harder. Here’s my short-list of groups:
- Close family friends
- Neighbours and community members
- Work (colleagues, clients, suppliers)
- School (colleagues, professors and administrators)
- Social (sports teams, social clubs)
- Online (social meida, blogs)
Then I started to realize that there may be people who I would still consider a contact but I haven’t connected with in a long time. A great example are some friends I recently got in touch with from Australia. These are guys that I went to high-school with back in 1993-94 who I last spoke with in 2000 and who, through the wonders of Facebook, I wrote to last month and, despite the length of time we haven’t communicated, were happy to hear from me (or so they say) and would like to get together with to catch up when I’m down there. Although they wouldn’t fit the Killworth and Bernard criteria, I would still count these as people that I know.
Finally, I thought, what about people that I know who don’t know me? I can think of several examples, specifically from my work life, of people (let’s say speakers at conferences), who I have had dealings with and who I would consider that I know, but they may not say the same about me. Maybe they would recognize my name, or my face. However, taken out of context they wouldn’t be able to put the two together. Would that still be considered someone I “know?” This type of “knowing” someone is further illustrated through social networks like twitter, where you follow someone and get to know them (in a certain way) through their outgoing communication, but who may not follow you back.
It’s certainly a daunting task to determine who you know. I can appreciate the challenge that Killworth and Bertnard had to deal with in order to determine the parameters of their study. Through this process, I have determined that there is no way that I could actually come up with a specific number of people that I know. This is for two reasons: 1) because the criteria for determining who I know is impossible to determine and 2) because I’m limited by my memory. I’m sure that even when thinking about my family, I’ve left out certain people who I would definitely say that I know, but I won’t remember that until I see them or hear from them next.
Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding social networks : Theories, concepts, and findings. New York: Oxford University Press